I'm now making the most delicious Turkish pilaf. It's bulgur pilaf, packed with bright and healthy things such as bell peppers and tomatoes. And it's so easy you could throw it together at the last minute for dinner or to take to a party.
The recipe is from Kamuran Dover (at the top), a caterer and cooking teacher in Gaziantep, a city in southeastern Turkey that is on UNESCO's list of places with great gastronomy.
As part of a group attending Gaziantep's inaugural bulgur festival, I went to Dover's home for a cooking class. Her spotless apartment was set up not just for the class but for an elegant dinner afterward.
We crowded into the kitchen, taking notes as she prepared more food than we could possibly eat. The pilaf came first, starting with the sautéing of vegetables in olive oil (above). To these she added tomato and red pepper pastes and canned tomatoes.
Without the butter, the pilaf becomes an excellent dish for vegans, as bulgur is known for its nutritional richness.
After boiling, Dover let the pilaf cook over low heat until the liquid was absorbed. Then she turned off the heat and placed a double layer of paper towels under the lid to collect excess moisture. This is how the pilaf looked when she dished it up.
I was astonished to learn that she prepares everything she cooks with, even condiments such as red pepper and tomato pastes and dried red pepper flakes that are readily available in local markets. The canned tomatoes she added to the pilaf were homemade too.
I had never seen anything like her bread salad, made with flakes of a dried bread called yufka ekmek. These she crushed even finer, mixing in peppers, onions, tomatoes, her homemade seasoning pastes, red pepper flakes, olive oil and shredded Antep cheese (above).
She combined the greens with lentils, chickpeas, black-eyed peas, bulgur, garlic and vegetables, adding cherry molasses and sumac molasses and finishing with a drizzle of red pepper flakes heated in oil. The soup alone would have been enough for dinner.
Dover wanted to know which dishes we liked best. Well, everything. But I singled out the bread salad omac. I couldn't stop eating it.
The dishes she taught were practical and easy to make back home. Markets that stock Middle Eastern ingredients have everything needed, including tomato and red pepper pastes from Turkey, breads that could be substituted for yufka ekmek in the salad omac, Turkish cheeses and pomegranate molasses, which could replace Dover's sour cherry molasses.
After dinner, we settled into plushy gold-upholstered chairs in the parlor (above) and talked like old friends. Dover was married at the age of 14, lost her husband in a traffic accident (his photograph is above the mirror behind the dining table) and developed the catering business to support herself. She showed us a huge freezer packed with food for her clients.
As we left, we retrieved our shoes. Turkish custom is to remove them before entering a home, and we were given slippers so that we would be comfortable during the evening.
Dover welcomes tourists to her classes. She doesn't speak English, but a translator will be provided. It's a unique opportunity to see genuine Turkish home cooking and then enjoy a superb meal.
To inquire about her classes, contact Filiz Hosukoglu, who works with her and speaks excellent English. Her email is email@example.com.
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 medium green bell pepper, diced small
1/2 medium red bell pepper, diced small
1/2 medium onion, diced small
1 medium tomato, diced small
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 tablespoon Turkish red pepper paste
1/2 cup canned tomatoes
1 1/2 cups coarse bulgur
3 cups hot water
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
2 tablespoons butter
Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan. Add the green and red peppers and the onion and cook until they start to soften. Add the tomato and cook until tender. Stir in the tomato paste and red pepper paste, then add the canned tomatoes and stir until blended.
Add the bulgur, hot water and salt, then add the butter and let melt.
Cover the pan and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and cook until the liquid is absorbed but the bulgur is still soft and not dry. Turn off the heat. Place a double layer of paper towels until the lid to absorb steam and let the pilaf stand for half an hour. Reheat if necessary.
Makes 8 servings.